Too Much Weight to Bear

General Lavr Kornilov, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Army

In looking through the events that led up to the October Revolution, it is almost impossible to single out one instance that was the ignition point for the final stages of the revolution. However, the Kornilov Affair was unquestionably one of the events that did significantly erode the already weak Provisional Government. The question is though what would drive a national hero to attempt a coup d’etat such as this one? The answer is simple enough though.

Kornilov had achieved his status as a national hero after escaping from a Hungarian prisoner of war camp in 1916, but this alone was not the reason that he chose to lead the coup. Many people in Russia simply longed for an end to the national chaos as well for an end to the war and Kornilov seemed to the man for the job. He was backed by many of the more conservative people of influence that longed for a return to stability and away from liberalism. The coup itself was attempted by Kornilov on August 27 after a confusing series of exchanges with Alexander Kerensky, the head of the Provisional Government. It is unclear what was meant in the exchanges, but Kornilov interpreted the message to mean that a Bolshevik uprising was taking place in Petrograd. He was accused of attempting to gain full civil and military authority of the government. Outraged by this, Kornilov called for the people to assist in overthrowing the Provisional Government. Kerensky anticipated this move and mobilized the Red Guards to head off the Third Cavalry Corps and by August 31 the ‘counter-revolution’ was ended with very little bloodshed.

In the days and months after the dismal failure of the coup, the only real winners were the Bolsheviks who enjoyed renewed support and fervor for their cause. Kornilov was arrested, but escaped to continue his fight against the Bolsheviks with the Volunteer Army until he was killed in 1918. He was a true patriot in that he only desired a stronger government with the will to do what needed to be done. Whether he was betrayed by Kerensky or merely under misinformation is not clear in records. Under the pressure to win the war and end the chaos at home Kornilov acted as he believed necessary. In his attempt to restore order though he only succeeded in bringing more instability to the government.


Freeze, Gregory. Russia: A History. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Siegelbaum, Lewis. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, “1917: Kornilov Affair.” Last modified 2013. Accessed September 15, 2013.


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